Water Conservation And Supply Enhancement

Since 2009, the Department of the Interior has approved grants that will increase water conservation by over 1 million acre feet of water, extending the available water supply in the Western States.

What’s the Issue?

The Nation faces an increasing set of water resource challenges: aging water-related infrastructure, rapid population growth, depletion of groundwater resources, climate variability and change, and prolonged or severe droughts. Shortages and water use conflicts have become more commonplace in many areas of the United States due to the increasing population and competition for the limited fresh water resource. A sustainable water supply is critical to address current and future water shortages, degraded water quality, demands for water and energy for growing populations, recognition of environmental water requirements, and water inequity for Indian tribes and rural communities disadvantaged by financial need or geographic isolation. Traditional water management approaches, by themselves, no longer meet today's needs. Federal leadership is critical to working with stakeholders to identify and implement effective conservation and recycling techniques in order to stretch existing supplies.  

What was the intervention?

The Department of the Interior expanded the use of leveraged water-sustainability grants to increase conservation and the efficient use of water in the West. These competitive grants, which included non-federal cost-sharing, fund water conservation projects that increase water capacity.  The Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation identified new projects for funding and awarded financial assistance through: 

  • WaterSMART (http://www.usbr.gov/watersmart) grant projects; Bureau of Reclamation awarded grants and worked with applicants to complete environmental compliance and develop financial assistance agreements for each project.
  • Title XVI Program (http://www.usbr.gov/watersmart/title/index.html) provided financial and technical assistance to local water agencies for the planning, design, and construction of water recycling and reuse projects, thereby improving efficiency, providing flexibility during water shortages, and diversifying the water supply.  
  • CALFED Water Conservation Grants (http://www.usbr.gov/newsroom/presskit/factsheet/detail.cfm?recordid=3001), a combined State of California and Federal program, focused on the restoration of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta’s fragile ecosystem while improving water supply reliability for urban and agricultural water users. 

Yakima River Basin Water Enhancement Project (YRBWEP) (http://www.usbr.gov/pn/programs/yrbwep/ ) evaluates and implements structural and non-structural measures to increase the reliability of the irrigation water supply and enhance streamflows and fish passage in the Yakima River basin in Washington State.

How was performance management useful?

The initiative’s effectiveness is highly dependent on the submission of technically viable proposals.  Senior management’s monitoring of progress on a regular basis led to the inclusion of these grant offerings under the water conservation initiative.  The routine monitoring helped senior management better decide as to when additional technical assistance was needed for potential participants to help ensure the continued spread of program benefits; water conservation projects are built or installed by program participants instead of the government.  Performance management also provided insight into the extent to which appropriated funds were affecting the potential for water conservation, reassuring continuation of the program.

What was the impact?

Since the start of FY 2010, projects providing over 1.1 million acre feet of water conservation capacity have been approved through approximately 650 individual grants and contracts, especially in the water sensitive areas of the Western United States.  These investments are expected to result in water savings equivalent to the amount necessary to meet the needs of more than 4.5 million people over the life of the projects, based on a family of 4 utilizing an average of 1 acre feet of water per year.


Investments in water conservation projects help stretch existing supplies through more efficient and effective utilization of the resource and reduce the need to invest in new infrastructure to develop new sources of supply. Conserved water can increase flexibility by helping to bring demands into better balance with supply; help to address endangered species concerns; and increase the reliability of existing water infrastructure. Projects that include water reuse can diversify the water supply; providing a supply that helps provide sustainability during times of drought since sources such as treated municipal wastewater can be made available, especially for agriculture and industry, freeing up potable water supplies during periods of water shortages. The benefits of water conservation and reuse investments occur at local levels as individual projects are implemented.


Examples of water conservation projects funded as part of the Bureau of Reclamation’s water conservation initiatives include the following:

  • The Three Sisters Irrigation District in Oregon identified a need to convert open ditches to pipe. Through a 2015 WaterSMART Grant, the district is working to pipe 14,000 feet of the open Watson-McKenzie Main Canal, which is expected to result in water savings of approximately 1,850 acre-feet annually. The District is also working with farmers that are interested in working with the Natural Resources Conservation Service to convert to high efficiency irrigation systems once the pressurized pipe is installed. The District plans to dedicate a portion of the conserved water for instream flows through the Deschutes River Conservancy to improve habitat for endangered species.


  • Through a 2012 WaterSMART Grant, the Bostwick Irrigation District in Nebraska converted 7 miles of open ditch to buried pipe, an improvement estimated to result in savings of 1,573 acre-feet of water annually that had been lost to seepage and evaporation. The project also included the installation of a variable frequency drive to increase pumping efficiency. Water conserved as a result of this project is stored in the Harlan County Reservoir on the Republican River to maintain lake levels and meet water supply needs and to comply with the Republican River Compact.


  • In northern Montana, the Malta Irrigation District identified needs for a new headgate structure at the Dodson South Canal and acoustic Doppler flow meters to improve operational control and efficiency in the system. The district is undertaking this work through a 2014 WaterSMART Grant. The current system of canals and storage reservoirs supply irrigators with only one-third to one-half of the water needed for full crop production in a normal year. The project is expected to result in annual water savings of 1,350 acre-feet.  The district plans to leave water saved from the project in the Milk River to benefit other districts, upstream and downstream, as well as the endangered Pallid Sturgeon’s critical habitat. 


Through the Title XVI Program, the North Bay Water Reuse Project in Santa Rosa, California, is constructing Phase I of the project, which includes upgrades of treatment processes and construction of storage, pipelines, and pump station facilities to distribute recycled water. Phase I will provide 5,457 acre-feet of recycled water annually for agricultural, environmental, industrial, and landscape uses throughout Marin, Sonoma, and Napa counties. The project reduces reliance on local and imported surface water and groundwater supplies, and it reduces the amount of treated effluent released to San Pablo Bay and its tributaries.